Steamboat Springs Despite making appearances at the state meet the past two years, junior distance runner Tara Wernig admits she still gets a little nervous prior to a race.
"I can't really explain it, but I always get nervous before a race," Wernig said. "I think it's pretty normal."
While it might be normal for Wernig and her teammates on the Steamboat Springs High School cross country team to have a few butterflies prior to the team's opener at Lake County on Sept. 7, head coach John Smith isn't worried about the talent of this year's team.
"This is going to be one of the best teams we have ever had," Smith said. "We've got a lot of talented runners on this team. If we can stay healthy, I think we can contend this season."
The coach has also been blessed with one of his largest teams in recent memory. This year he expects 35 to 40 athletes to come out for the team. That's about 12 more runners than the team had last season.
"I think this is going to be a great team," Wernig said. "It's hard to tell before the first meet, but I think we have some pretty fast runners on this team."
Among the speedsters is senior Eddie Vanbaak. He will lead a strong group of young runners on the boys team. The girls team will feature Wernig, as well as several other proven athletes.
Smith expects both the boys and girls teams to be competitive this fall even against proven teams like Moffat County.
This year Mullen will also join the Western Slope League. Smith said the move was political and he doesn't understand why the Denver-area team has been moved to his region.
"We will not see them until regionals," Smith said. "I don't like the move, but there isn't anything we can do about it."
The coach is hoping his runners will make the most of the opportunity to face the team in the region and he thinks his runners will be competitive against any team no matter where they come from.
The season is scheduled to start Sept. 7 in Lake County. The Steamboat team will host a meet, the Steamboat Springs Sufferfest, Sept. 14. That meet will be followed by appearances in Middle Park, Moffat County and Palisade. The team will also run in the Chris Severly Invitational before the regional meet.
"We are going to have to work as a team to be successful this year," runner Tyler O'Leary said. "We are going to have to work with one another, and if we can, I think the whole team will be strong."